Album Review – Caitlin Rose “Own Side Now”

March 29, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  29 Comments

Own Side Now is the freshman offering from Nashville songstress Caitlin Rose. It is a breath of fresh air in the non-mainstream music scene that seems at times to be polarized between hipster and hardcore.

Own Side Now strives for originality, not acceptance; yearning for it’s own niche while not being pretentious. The songs are masterfully-produced and patient. The main influence is country, but there’s some late 60′s hard pop to almost heroine sheik influence here as well, some neo-traditional and vintage approach, and some new stuff too. No song here is fleshed out in a straightforward manner. The mood and instrumentation that the heart of the song calls for is found and custom fitted to each track. If the song needs steel guitar, the steel guitar is there. But so is tympani and a string arrangements if necessary.

There is some sexuality in this music. But it is so crafty and subtle, you might completely miss it the first time through. Unlike other young female singer/songwriter contemporaries, Caitlin bears her sexuality with such slyness and taste, it simply works to spark the imagination instead of spelling it out, which allows the theme of the song to gestate in the listener in conformance with their own life experiences, making the themes more real and relate-able to the listener.

Like with the opening track, “Learning to Ride”, Caitlin takes a very simply-produced song about learning to ride horses . . .or about something else. . . maybe. . . if that’s what you want the song to be about, and makes it be many things to many people. She shows wit, and deep study in her use of language that is very old and masterfully veiled.

Little boy lost, he’s a real coin toss. And could I pay the cost of even heading for a fall?

Born in June, he could learn to run too soon. He’s a real Summer’s child with two heads about it all.

This album has spice, and the strength of diversity. “For The Rabbits” mixes in a vintage 60′s swing vibe. “Shanghai Cigarettes” is very fun, very Emmylou and Gram, with Gram on his buzzing Brady Bunch guitar, and Emmylou shaking her tambourine and going for it all with her voice at the end. In “New York” the sly sexuality and wit makes an appearance once again.

“Spare Me” was when I began to spy a general theme bridging all of these songs together; a thread that follows a young woman from being enamored at realizing boys are paying attention to her from an innocent perspective, to then making the classic and inevitable follies of thinking first loves are forever, to post-heartbreak trying to find ones self and personal discovery and travel, to now jaded selfishness and the cold realism of a scarred heart.

The title track “Own Side Now” will likely get the most attention on this album, but it is a crime to overlook “Things Change” at the 7th slot. Haunting, biting, deep, soul wrenching stuff is evoked with kettle drums, lilting electric guitar, and a tremendous amount of open space that fills in the chorus with a crescendo of heartbreak. There’s almost Radiohead relevancy here, and Caitlin’s voice really starts to awaken and show some confidence.

Then the gears are shifted one again with the very country-feeling “That’s Alright”, where Caitlin’s voice continues to come alive, leading into the song where her howitzer pipes bust out in blinding glory, “Sinful Wishing Well”. This is the masterpiece song of the album, where all of Caitlin’s assets come into collaboration: the voice, the writing, the deep heartache communicated with honesty.

Caitlin Rose didn’t write these songs for anyone but herself. You can tell this in their honesty, and that is why they work so well on the rest of us. She rips open her chest and bears all from a shattered soul: arrogant and self-righteous, and fragile with low self-esteem all at the same time.

The only track that really didn’t speak to me was the last one, “Comin’ Up”. It seems to be confused if it wanted to be angry or fun, introspective or arrogant.

Caitlin Rose might be the most intriguing woman in music right now for me, and though timid to show it at times, might have on of the most powerful voices in popular music. I’m talking Opera-type power. It is not the most unique voice, nor does it conform to the over-singing/overly-inflected voice trends of today, but it is a force of nature. It is not the interesting fish or the delicate bird, it is the galloping white stallion that hits you like a howitzer when it is unleashed. Unfortunately I don’t think this album does a fair job at translating or capturing that. “Sinful Wishing Well” and a few other spots in certain songs are an exception, but as many songwriters mature, they figure out how to compose to their lyrical strengths; a trend I hope to see develop in Caitlin.

And this is something I very rarely rate or comment about on an album, but Own Side Now shows a tremendous amount of potential in young Caitlin. Her potential is through the roof. All the raw tools are there: the voice, the songwriting, the troubled soul, the well-cultured ear for arrangement and mood, subtlety and taste. And at times the whole package is put together, but not always. Yet. In some ways she seems to be her own worst enemy. But is this a criticism, or a trait found in many of the great ones?

I see Own Side Now as one of the marquee releases for 2011 so far, because it possesses mainstream appeal without compromising originality or independent values. And overall the music is just very appealing to listen to.

Two Guns Up!

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29 Comments to “Album Review – Caitlin Rose “Own Side Now””

  • I’ve been a fan since I got the Dead Flowers EP, and have been playing her since episode #1 of Blue Ribbon Radio. She’s fantastic.

    • I still need to get Dead Flowers. Being a hard-to-get import, I wanted to wait until the full release of this was available before I started talking too much about her. I’m pretty sure the first place I heard her was on Blue Ribbon Radio.

  • I have Caitlin’s “Dead Flowers EP”, which I got after you posted that video of her. I’ve been looking forward to this being available in the U.S. Her voice is a force of nature, well-put Triggerman! And “Sinful Wishing Well” blows my mind every time I hear it. Great review!

  • Pretty young woman. I like what I hear!

  • PS Have you told Rachel Brooke you’re dumping her yet? ;)

    • I’m too much man for one woman. Rachel has accepted this.

  • Very folky. She has a nice calm spirit about her. Reminds me of Carly Simon for some reason.

    Great blog Triggerman.

  • WOW!

  • Hm, i’ve only heard a few female artists in the Underground, in my opinion, Rachel Brooke is better than this girl is, but maybe her music grow on me with time, not sure, guess we’ll see in time.

    • In my humble opinion it would take a titan to knock Rachel Brooke off the top shelf. But thank goodness we’re talking music and not sports, so it’s not a competition! Plus Caitlin Rose and Rachel Brooke have very different styles.

  • Great voice, but i just can’t seem to get into her music.Maybe it has to grow on me alittle more.

  • Why does she feel the need to yell? She has a good voice, but her yelling makes me want to break something.

    • Actually, I would prefer if she “yelled” more. I’m guessing you didn’t make it past the first song, because that’s the only one that she “yells” in.

  • snore….Not really my thing I guess. She doesn’t really grab my attention. I’ll have to listen to more of her stuff or see her live to make a decent judgement. Sorry guys but I feel the same about Rachel Brooke as well. I’d rather listen to these female artists instead, Elizabeth Cook, Sunny Sweeney, Jaida Dreyer, Ashley Ray, Polly Punkneck, Tonya Watts.

    • I can understand this. Caitlin does have some up-tempo songs. “Shanghai Cigarettes” is an outright rocker. I can get into slow or light songs, the question is, is the artist “bringing it”? You can be slow, and still put out tons of energy. It’s an art all to itself. Justin Townes Earle live is probably the best example of this.

      I think even when Rachel Brooke is being slow and light, she still is bringing it, all the time, putting everything she has out there. One of my beef’s with Caitlin live and in this album is that she is not always bringing it. Sometimes she comes across as aloof, or even annoyed. All the raw tools are there though. I look forward to what she offers in the future, and enjoy this album for what it is.

  • She is a true talent for sure and I do dig the arrangement. Im starting to enjoy her music a little more but when her voice goes up I still find myself turning my head sideways a bit kinda like my pug does when he hears a high pitched noise..

    • I guess I should have learned my lesson when I posted my live review of her that some are turned off by the vocal tone of “Sinful Wishing Well”. That’s really the only song she has like that.

    • Haha, Misfit has a pug. Cute!

      • 2 of them.. Hank and Molly :)

  • Just got the CD, after reading your review. Never heard of her before. I have to say, alot of the music is that old school pop, mixed with country, but its not “pop country” if that makes any sense. Its an album I’m not embarassed to have on rotation at my house. Hope good things come for her. Thanks Triggerman, for suggesting another great musician.

    • Believe it or not, this album and the last album I reviewed, Slim Cessna’s “Unentitled” do the same thing in many ways: take pop structures and use them in music that is really not pop. Since I wrote that Slim Cessna review I since heard that the album is “their take on pop music”.

      I think the ability to take catchy and recognizable “pop” elements, and use them in songs that don’t compromise artistic integrity is a sign of great songwriting and producing. It also might be a current trend.

  • I am always looking for more female voices to fill my ears, and I thank you, Triggerman, for introducing her to me. She is delightful! I agree that there is a subtle, youthful, sultriness to her music.

    I would like to recommend my favorite solo female artist, Valerie June. Unforgettable voice.

  • Just caught her show last night in Portland.

    I’m in love.

  • Hey folks, you can download “Own Side Now” from Amazon for $3.99 right now. Screaming deal.

    • Thanks for the heads-up – I had downloaded “Shanghai Cigarettes” a couple days ago and my wife loved it. Definitely too good a deal to pass on, for us anyways.

  • I like this a lot! Thanks for introducing me to this, Trig. I listened to it on the subway and fell for “New York” as my favorite song off the bat ’cause Neeewwww Yoooooork is a good town to leeeeeet gooooooooo. :)

  • Now that I’ve digested this album a bit I have to say it’s fantastic! Not as raw, or even rootsy as much of the music we discuss on this site, but it is as REAL as any hardcore country/blues/punk artist I can think of. The songs are just exquisite, and so is Caitlin’s voice (in my opinion). I’ve love “Sinful Wishing Well” since the first time I heard it, and it’s still my favorite. But “For the Rabbits” has been bouncing around inside my skull all week. I can’t get enough of that song! WELL worth the cost, and a talent to watch for sure.,

  • I know you wrote this review a while ago but I just cant get enough of this album. I have listened to it several times as just background music but tonight I must have been in the zone…. man, she is just amazing. This is probably the most well produced album I have purchased in years. I usually listen for those minor mistakes on tracks and it seems to give them a sense of authenticity, if you will. I tried to find it on this album but I cant seem to make it past her voice and her words. Just amazing. great story teller.
    I am still madly in love with Rachel Brooke and as far as im concerned, she will always be the queen of the underground but they have two completely different styles,
    It is nice to see the ladies are making their way into the underground. We need them around to remind us that they have something to say and they are the reasons why people write songs about broken hearts. haha

    • That’s funny. I’ve been listening to this album a lot over the last few days myself all of a sudden, and keep seeing Caitlin’s name everywhere I look. It is a strange album. It’s not like anything I normally like, but I love it at the same time. There’s an authenticity and sadness to it that just really draws you in.

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